opinionBy Richard Rooney
In one of the most bizarre stories to come out of Swaziland's troubled Limkokwing University, the Minister of Education and Training Wilson Ntshangase publicly claimed that he cried in cabinet in order to get the prime minister to allow it to open in the kingdom.
'I cried, literally, because I was fighting, fighting, fighting and working hard for the university to be established in the country. On that day, the prime minister said to me, "Ntshangase, don't cry, we are going to help you,"' he told the guests at a book launch at Limkokwing.
Limkokwing is a private university based in Malaysia that has opened campuses in Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho on the African continent. Controversy has dogged Limkokwing wherever it goes, because of the often controversial way it sets up in a country and the low standards of its courses and teaching staffs.
Ntshangase might delude himself that it was his tears that won the day for Limkokwing in Swaziland, but in fact it was King Mswati III, who made it happen. Plans to set up in Mbabane were going nowhere for years until the king stepped in.
In June 2011, it emerged that the university's founder Tan Sri Dato Lim Kok Wing had a meeting with King Mswati and 'persuaded' him that Swaziland needed a new university - and Limkokwing should be it. He fooled the king into believing that low level courses in such subjects as Graphic Designing, TV & Film Production, Architectural Technology, Advertising, Creative Multimedia, Information Technology, Event Management, Business Information Technology, Journalism and Media, Public Relations and Business Management, would help Swaziland - a mainly agricultural society - to prosper.
These courses are 'associate degrees', a term invented to disguise the fact that they are courses inferior to a bachelor degree, which are better known in other educational institutions as 'diplomas'.
Limkokwing cannot escape the controversy about the quality of its courses: an organisation isn't a 'university' just because it says it is.
The king passed on his wishes to government that Limkokwing should be supported and no matter how daft the proposition, it had to find the money to make it work. Before we knew it the Swazi Government had put up US$2 million a year it did not have for scholarships for up to 800 students.
We know it did not have the money because as soon as Limkokwing opened in Mbabane in May 2011, students began protesting that they were not getting their allowances and there were no text books and too few laptops. There were at least 20 protests, class boycotts and closures during the first year after it opened. Police used teargas and rubber bullets against protesting students. One student was shot in the leg.
Limkokwing is in Swaziland illegally. You need an Act of Parliament to set up a university, but Limkokwing was allowed to start without parliament's approval and there is no intention of creating an Act for it. This was confirmed by Ntshangase.
Ackel Zwane, who writes for the Swazi Observer pointed out in May 2011, 'The University of Swaziland [the kingdom's only other university] is established by an Act of Parliament, which solely governs that institution and therefore, the same Act cannot be applied in the regulation of the new Limkokwing and others. There is something stinking under the carpet.
'All those appearing to be promoting higher education in Swaziland have personal interests that cannot be disputed.'
Educational standards at Limkokwing are lower than those at other universities, including the University of Swaziland. It is so desperate to attract fee-paying students that it does not require them to have qualifications in the English language.
Ntshangase said there was 'nothing suspicious' about Limkokwing wanting lower qualifications for entry. But, Limkokwing makes its money from student fees: the more students it signs up, the more money it makes.
A proper university offers high quality courses to high quality students using high quality staff.
Limkokwing falls down on all of these. The quality of students it takes is poor. In Swaziland it takes students with three credits in the International General Certificate of Secondary Education. This is lower than the five credits needed for entry to the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), the kingdom's only state-run university.
No student at a Limkokwing University should fail, according to its owner Lim Kok Wing. He told a Malaysian newspaper, 'It is my belief that no student should fail. If there are failures, then it is we who have failed them.' Which means lecturers will pass even the dullest and laziest students to avoid being criticised by their own bosses.
Then there is the quality of the staff. Limkokwing advertises internationally for staff in its new campuses (including Swaziland). It states that applicants with bachelor degrees will be considered for posts. A proper university would expect staff to have Ph.D doctorate degrees.
In June 2012, after one year of operation Bandile Mkhonta, Head of Human Resource for Limkokwing in Mbabane, told local media that of 53 professional staff at the university; only one had a Ph.D.
The Swazi Observer reported Mkhonta saying Limkokwing had fewer Ph.Ds because it was a 'non-conventional' university whose curriculum was mainly based on practice than theory.
For 'non-conventional' one should read 'non-university'.